JustAccess Seeks Crowdfunding to Launch Venture to Crowdfund Legal Disputes

JustAccess is a Toronto startup that, as of today, is seeking donations via the Centre for Social Innovation‘s crowdfunding site, Catalyst. The notion is that with a $10,000 infusion JustAccess can launch its own venture, which will:

support plaintiffs and defendants who can’t afford proper access to the justice system[,] share their stories with like minded people and request financial support towards their legal fees.

JustAccess is the work of a team of three people, Sam Saad, Chris Barry, and Kay Dyson Tam, none of whom is a lawyer or has legal training. Saad, the Managing Director is currently Co-Curricular Educator at UofT’s Hart House and has had a varied career, according to an exchange of emails I had with him, having been a fundraiser for Greenpeace and a UN Electoral Officer among other things.

At base, JustAccess would enable anyone to place details of their legal plight on the website and request donations toward legal expenses from readers. Saad says this fundraising will enable people to fund not only expenses associated with litigation but the cost of “consultation, retainers and all other legal fees.” I asked about what sort of documentation was going to make up the “case profiles” that will be on the website. Saad replied:

Initially, our platform will be able to draw from any documents filed with the court to initiate proceedings. These include actions, notices, applications and motions, docket or case number if they’ve reached that stage, and links to public information about the case. As we grow, we’ll also include presiding judge and other facts and facets that create a shareable, well rounded story.

This leads me to suspect that as of now they lack a clear idea of how to authenticate an applicant’s claim other than by material already generated through litigation.

One way JustAccess might be able to filter out truly vexatious or wholly fabricated claims arises from their plans about managing money raised via the website. According to Saad, the pleaders — “campaign creators” — will never touch the funds; JustAccess receives the money and “ensures it’s spent on legal costs and nothing else.” This, of course, would mean that a court, lawyer or paralegal would almost certainly be involved at the payout stage. Saad adds:

At first, all invoices — with private and confidential information redacted, of course — will be paid directly by our Accounts Department. As we grow, we’ll crowdsource this operation to partnering community-based legal aid organizations.

JustAccess will adopt what I’m told is the current practice with crowdfunding platforms and retain perhaps 5% of monies raised.

I was interested to see on their current, and largely place-holding, website that in addition to quoting Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin they quote as well Larry Tribe to establish a US “context,” leading me to wonder whether they hope to do business in the US as well.

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Comments

  1. Hmm… Perhaps these guys should get counsel. They may be spending a lot of time dancing around laws relating to champerty or (more likely) maintenance.

  2. I think it’s wonderful that people are bringing entrepreneurial creativity into the A2J trenches, although I agree with Simon and Mike that there are potential flies in the ointment.

    Just Access strikes me as having great potential for social justice / public interest and Charter litigation. Crowdsourced funding to challenge prostitution or drug possession laws, or to defend a supervised injection clinic, seems like a likely bet.

    I’m not so sure that many people will want to contribute to garden variety civil litigation, e.g. funding someone else’s child custody litigation or small claims court case.

  3. Thanks for your posts and interest in JustAccess.

    Miles, we have counsel on our Advisory Board and were working with a CLO. But are currently interviewing to fill that role. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

    Noel, my first sense in creating JustAccess was that it’d indeed be used primarily for public interest cases. Throughout my informational interviews though, I was really surprised to hear potential users say that they’d support tenant/landlord disputes, divorce cases, and other such litigation – if they’d gone through it themselves and had an emotional link to the experience. Knowing market behaviours is always the trickiest part of social innovation.

    As for how we’ll authenticate a campaign creator’s case profile. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to determine the right balance between accessibility, transparency and accountability. Unlike other crowdfunding sites, we don’t want just anyone to be able to tell a story – without real verification – and collect funds to spend as they see fit.

    That’s why leveraging materials generated through litigation and not transferring funds directly to campaign creators is of the utmost importance. It certainly dampens the accessibility piece though. Once again, suggestion greatly welcome!

  4. Great Idea! I had a similar idea a few months back but didn’t pursue it.

    The big challenge will obviously be getting people to donate. With other crowd funding campaign you usually get some perk like an early release of the product or some unique experience. With this idea that really wouldn’t work but I’m sure you’ll find the right motivators in time. If crowd funding doesn’t work, peer2peer lending probably would.